AirBnB has literally changed the entire hospitality industry. Love em or hate em, they are a major player in the accommodation market, and quite frankly, they have some incredibly unique properties for rent.
But they’re not always as good as they’re cracked up to be. There are many questions renters need to ask, strategies for finding better deals and some concerning safety issues that have recently come to light. It’s not as easy as just browsing the app and clicking ‘book’, there is more homework to do in order to find a fantastic rental.
Personally, I have this weird love/hate relationship with AirBnB. On one hand I love having different options to hotels and the ability to stay in rare properties. On the other hand, I strongly dislike the pressure that AirBnB puts on locals in their own neighborhoods, usually forcing them out!
Over the last few years I have stayed in my fair share of AirBnB’s and have learned a lot along the way. Sometimes they completely miss the mark, having me crawling back to hotel chains with my tail between my legs. That’s not to say there aren’t still some hidden gems out there that will make anyone’s vacation truly magical. This blog will teach you how to uncover those gems and hopefully avoid the real dumps.
Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about renting an AirBnB…
How to Find the Perfect Rental on AirBnB
I’m not going to get deep into how to use AirBnB, as this will vary depending on what you personally need. Using the app or searching online, choose your city, dates, guests, and other filters/preferences. Don’t forget to choose if you are looking for shared or private accommodation.
Remember, finding a great AirBnB takes time, so give yourself lots.
Does everything seem out of budget at first glance?
I believe everything is negotiable! I will set my max budget HIGHER than I would ever want to pay because I know I am going to negotiate with the hosts. I advise to crank up the max budget a bit so it doesn’t hide rentals that might fall into budget after a little negotiation.
This is especially true for longer stays!
When I find a place I want to rent, reviews are the first thing I look at. Reviews will tell you WAY more than the listing details itself. I always search for clues that tell me more about what staying in the rental is really like. People will talk about broken or missing things, how far restaurants were to walk to, if there was an issue with check-in, or even how the place might actually look better than the pictures.
You will start to see patterns in the reviews as well. They might all say “Enrico was amazing, more like a tour guide than a host!”, which means you get the bonus of a super involved host. Or maybe they all say “Wi-Fi was hit and miss”, which means you’ll need to pick up a SIM card or consider another rental.
I also try to only stay in places with multiple reviews so that I am not the guinea pig. When a place has ZERO reviews it’s really hard to know what you are getting into. I have been unpleasantly surprised so many times that I’m not into playing that game of chance anymore.
Look At The Host
Okay so you found the PERFECT place and there aren’t a lot of pictures or reviews, but you want to take the chance. First, take a look at the host’s history. They might have other properties in the area that have lots of reviews that will give you a clue into how this property might be managed.
On the flip side, they might not have any history! They might have only signed up last month with very little detail. Personally, this is a red flag for me. Sure every new host has to start off somewhere, but I’m not into betting my vacation on them. Even though AirBnB is good at catching fraud, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Fake listings and fake hosts can still get past detection, resulting in accommodation scams that will put a buzz kill on your vacation.
Take a Good Look at Photos
Sometimes hosts will take photos of a common area and make it look like it’s part of the actual unit, so be aware! I can’t believe how many times I’ve seen a cute living room, furnished patio or even kitchen that was NOT inside the rental I was looking at. Instead they were amenities of the condo building or club house.
If the photos aren’t matching up with the listing description, ask some questions.
Be Ultra Flexible With Dates
If you still can’t find a good rental after increasing your budget and toggling other filters, try being more flexible with your dates.
For example: Say you are looking for a place for a 10-day vacation in Paris. What if your DREAM apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower was only available for 7 of those days? Would you stay in a cheap alternative for the first 3 nights in order to score your ultimate bucket-list place? Probably!
Try messing with the dates to see if you can score a great deal that way.
Things To Do BEFORE You Book That AirBnB
Check That It Has Everything You Need
This seems like a given, but you wouldn’t believe how many people mess up on this step. (I’m mostly talking about me here! lol!)
Depending on your lifestyle, the type of vacation you are having, who is with you and what your plans are, there are many things you need to ensure the rental has!
- If you are going to be buying groceries: Does it have a fridge, freezer, and all cooking utensils?
- If you want the ability to do laundry: Does it have a working washer/dryer and is soap included, or will you have to bring your own?
- If you want to stream Netflix: Does it have a strong enough Wi-Fi connection, an HDMI cable for your laptop, or a SmartTV connection?
- If it’s in a hot climate: Does it have AC in all rooms, or just the bedrooms? (super common to only have it in sleeping areas, we’ve made this mistake 3 times!)
- If it’s in a developing country: Does it have a jug of potable water ready, or will you have to haul your own drinking water?
Make a list of the things that are really important for you to have a safe and comfortable stay, then double check the rental has them all.
Look Into AirBnB's Cancellation Policy
AirBnB has 3 types of cancellation policies that the host will choose from to automatically apply on their listing:
- Flexible: Full refund 1 day prior to arrival, except fees
- Moderate: Full refund 5 days prior to arrival, except fees
- Strict: 50% refund up to 1 week prior to arrival, except fees
Flexible and Moderate cancellation policies also allow guests to leave early and have their un-used nights refunded to them.
Most of the rentals you’ll come across will have the ‘Strict’ policy to better protect them against no-shows and early departures. Be aware which type of cancellation policy your rental has before you commit to booking it.
Ask About The Neighborhood
Let me tell you a story. We were in Bali and staying in a cheapo hotel while we caught up on work. After a few weeks and 20 blog posts later, we decided to spoil ourselves with a week in a private pool villa we found on AirBnB. We were so excited to have the place to ourselves, to take a week off work and just relax!
We never asked about construction in the area. And guess what? The direct neighbor was completely demolishing and re-building his house. After 2 silent days in the beginning, it was nothing but jackhammers, skill saws and hammering for the rest of the week. It was literal torture. And we didn’t contact AirBnB within 24 hours, so we were on our own. The owner actually tried to blackmail us from leaving a bad review, even though he KNEW he didn’t disclose the construction on purpose.
I now ALWAYS ask about construction in the area.
Other questions you could ask about the neighborhood are:
- How safe is it to walk alone at night?
- Have there been any noise complaints about the neighbors before?
- Is there any scheduled maintenance or power outages happening in the area?
- How close is the nearest convenience store, restaurant and transit stop?
Unless it’s the AirBnB of your dreams and you just want to pull the trigger, take a moment and negotiate with the host. Like I mentioned before, this especially works well if you are staying for an extended period of time, or if you will only be using a portion of the rental.
For example, we once found this incredible 3 bedroom oceanfront penthouse in Nuevo Vallarta that was listed at $550 USD per night! (shown above). We were looking for somewhere for an entire month, so that would have equaled $16,500 USD for 30 days, something that was WAY out of budget. However, once we started chatting with him and he knew it was only 2 of us, he was super flexible on price. He went down to $133 a night (76% off!) because we were staying an extra long time and only using 1 bedroom. He realized it’s less wear and tear on his rental, less electricity and AC being used, and less stress to have one renter in there for the whole month.
Note: Negotiation is very difficult during peak times like New Years, Christmas, Easter or other high occupancy dates. It’s also tough to negotiate when they have killer good ratings and a nearly over-booked calendar. Know the limits of when you might be able to negotiate and try your best.
Long-Term AirBnB Renters Also Need To Ask These Questions:
- Is electricity included or charged extra?
- What is the Wifi speed (ask for screen shot of speed test for proof)
- Are guests allowed?
- Is weekly cleaning is included or optional to purchase?
- If past reviews have mentioned damaged or non-working things, have they since been fixed?
- What floor is it on? Is there a lift?
- Is there a dishwasher, washer and dryer? What about a clothes drying rack or iron?
After You Book Your AirBnB
Protect Your Trip
Once you have your rental all figured out, you need to protect yourself with travel insurance. Most providers treat AirBnB the same way it treats hotels, which is great if something comes up.
Let’s say you had a health emergency that could be claimed under the ‘Trip Cancellation’ policy in your travel insurance. Even if your rental could not be canceled through AirBnB, your travel insurance could reimburse you for all/part of that cost.
Traveling without insurance is not worth it.
Checking Into Your AirBnB
Ensure Everything Is As Advertised
If it’s not the same as what you were expecting, CALL AIRBNB RIGHT AWAY.
AirBnB wants you to have a great stay. They are usually pretty helpful if a property has been falsely advertised or is unsafe in any way. Here is the key, if something isn’t right you need to call immediately. In their terms and conditions, they state you have to call within 24 hours. If they are going to find you alternative accommodations, they need you to notify them ASAP. If you decide to call later in the week, AirBnB is likely not going to assist you.
AirBnB has been known to issue a refund if:
- The rental is in a different area than advertised
- The rental has obviously not been cleaned or is in a very dirty state
- The number of beds, bedrooms, or bathrooms is incorrect
- Amenities like parking or balcony do not exist
- The rental cannot be accessed and host cannot be contacted
- The rental is unsafe, or has an animal that was not previously disclosed
Check That Everything Works
Most times it will be your host letting you into the rental, so keep them there for a few minutes to ensure everything works. It’s much easier to deal with them in person than to call them later and ask them to come back.
You will want to check things like:
- That the doors completely close and lock
- Hot water is working
- Other items are working like stove, A/C, heat, etc.
Look For Hidden Cameras
Creepy right? Well unfortunately it’s the world we live in. Hidden cameras have been discovered in the most sinister of places, like bedrooms and bathrooms, where guests have been unknowingly recorded. You can learn more about How To Find a Hidden Camera in Your AirBnB, but know this is a real trending issue.
Where does AirBnB stand on hidden cameras?
Well for private areas (like bedrooms and bathrooms) it’s obviously against all terms and conditions and completely prohibited. However, areas like hallways and kitchens and perhaps even living rooms they may be allowed, as long as they are disclosed in the listing.
Once you arrive at your AirBnB, do a quick 5 minute sweep for hidden cameras just to ensure your safety.
This tip might be a little over the top, but it’s a quick 3 minute habit that could save you hundreds. If there is obvious damage in the unit, take a photo the moment you arrive. This way you have time-stamped proof that the damage was already there when you checked-in. Incase of a dispute by the owner, you now have evidence to back up your case.
Same thing could be done at checkout. If you snap a few pictures of how you left the rental, a host cannot claim unwarranted damages against you.
What To Do After You Check-Out
Leave a Review
Leave a review! Be detailed and honest to help other travelers make a decision. If it was the best stay ever, say that! If the home had undisclosed issues you know would bother another renter, say that too. We live in a world of fake reviews and biased recommendations that you don’t want to be a part of. Think about how helpful reviews were to you when you made your booking, and pass along that good karma.